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Pleural plaques former claimants payment scheme now open
The pleural plaques former claimants payment scheme applicable in England and Wales opened for applications on the 2 August 2010. To qualify for a payment of £5,000 through this scheme, you must have been diagnosed with pleural plaques as a result of exposure to asbestos and have unsuccessfully attempted to claim damages for the condition prior to 17 October 2007. Further details about eligibility for the scheme and how to apply are now available online. Applications must be submitted by 1 August 2011.
Karl Tonks, an industrial disease specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP said: "This is a welcome step by the government but the law still restricts those living with pleural plaques with no symptoms, diagnosed after 17 October 2007, from any recourse in regard to compensation."
Pleural plaques are essentially scarring of the lungs, areas of thick scar tissue which form in the chest lining and diaphragm as a result of asbestos exposure. In most cases pleural plaques do not affect breathing.
"Given that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing a serious illness like mesothelioma, a diagnosis of pleural plaques can obviously be very unsettling, naturally giving rise to a sense of anxiety and unease." said Karl, a partner with the firm.
On the basis of certain High Court decisions in the 1980's, it was possible for people to be awarded compensation for negligent exposure to asbestos which had in turn led to the appearance of pleural plaques. However, in January 2006 the Court of Appeal ruled that distressing though a diagnosis of pleural plaques is - it does not in fact indicate any physical damage - and therefore as a condition would no longer be compensatable. The case centred on whether pleural plaques counted as an injury for which damages could be claimed. The Law Lords ruled that pleural plaques was not a disease in itself.
In a unanimous decision on 17 October 2007 the House of Lords upheld the Court of Appeal decision that the existence of pleural plaques does not constitute actionable or compensatable damage, meaning anyone subsequently diagnosed with pleural plaques and no other asbestos-related condition, is no longer able to claim compensation under the civil law of negligence.
Compensation remains available for a range of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural thickening, pneumoconiosis and asbestos-related lung cancer. The ruling stated that if claimants with pleural plaques go on to develop any recognised asbestos-related disease in the future they would then have a valid claim in respect of that disease.
"The House of Lords decision was hugely disappointing for the thousands of people living in uncertainty, knowing they had scarring on their lungs caused by asbestos," said Karl. "There was understandably a degree of confusion if not offence that the Law Lords had deemed pleural plaques unworthy of any compensation."
In light of representations made by individuals and organisations who strongly disagreed with the Law Lords' decision, and in recognition of the concerns that arose, the government published a consultation paper in 2008 to explore the most appropriate ways of supporting people diagnosed with pleural plaques. The paper sought views on a number of options in response to the ruling, including whether to overturn the House of Lords' judgement and legislate so that pleural plaques would again be compensatable under civil law.
The paper requested views on the best and most appropriate way to respond to the Law Lords' decision. It proposed action to improve people's understanding of pleural plaques and to provide support and reassurance to those who were concerned. It considered the issues that arose in regard to changing the law of negligence and whether this would or would not be appropriate. It also sought opinion on the merits of offering financial support to people diagnosed with pleural plaques, and on possible ways of doing this.
"A significant consequence of the House of Lords' decision has been that anyone diagnosed with pleural plaques can no longer bring proceedings to establish liability for negligent exposure to asbestos," said Karl. "This is of enormous importance to those who then contract mesothelioma, as victims, once diagnosed, frequently die very soon afterwards, leaving precious little time to trace insurance records and obtain compensation."
The government believes it is imperative that steps are taken to improve the speed of payment for compensation claims for mesothelioma and other serious asbestos related diseases. Various initiatives have been proposed including a working group - composed of claimant solicitors, trade unions, insurers and the judiciary - to analyse current mesothelioma compensation practice with the aim of identifying methods for streamlining procedures to reduce the time taken to conclude cases.
In light of the medical evidence surrounding pleural plaques, including reports from the Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, the Government has reiterated how it does not consider it appropriate that the Law Lords decision should be overturned. However, in recognition of the unique circumstances of those who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation before the ruling, the Government has decided to make one-off payments of £5,000 to people in that category.
"The Government's decision to award one-off payments to sufferers of pleural plaques is of course welcome," said Karl. "But the decision not to overturn the ruling, preventing thousands of people from claiming compensation is still disappointing. This payment will be of no consolation to the 100,000 families in Britain affected by exposure to asbestos who have been denied the right to claim compensation to which they should be entitled, and who now face an uncertain future."
How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of industrial diseases including asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.
If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.
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